Kingsport hopes to rediscover the Holston River

Matthew Lane • Sep 3, 2017 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The Model City has a rich history with the Holston River. From its early settlements on Long Island, to the establishment of Boat Yard and Netherland Inn, to its modern incorporation a century ago, Kingsport has always depended on the Holston River.

Now, city leaders want to rediscover the river and transform this unique asset into an economic driver with quality-of-life amenities, recreational opportunities and new businesses and residents establishing themselves along the banks of the Holston.

Last month, the One Kingsport Advisory Commission presented its top five “big ideas” to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, recommending city leaders focus on upgrading Bays Mountain, building an outdoor venue, creating a neighborhood commission and establishing a product creation center downtown.

The fifth idea on the panel’s list was rediscovering the riverfront.

An interest in rivers “is not specific to Kingsport. It’s trending all over the country,” said Seth Jervis, a member of the One Kingsport Advisory Commission. “I believe the big draw for the river is ... it’s multigenerational. We have an opportunity in front of us to really cater to all demographics, all ages, because everyone is naturally drawn to the water.”

Including Jervis, who describes himself as a “river guy” who enjoys fishing and kayaking. But you can kayak almost anywhere, he says.

“The unique thing about what we’re proposing is the multigenerational effect of it,” Jervis explains. “We’re talking about playgrounds, fishing, boating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboards and rafting.”

A recent TVA study has shown that one mile of shoreline equals $1 million in economic impact. Outdoor recreation participants in Tennessee spend $21.6 billion annually on watersports such as kayaking, rafting, canoeing and motorized boating, with watersports directly supporting more than 188,000 jobs in the state.

To bolster the idea of redeveloping the river, Jervis points out that Netherland Inn Road sees 12,000 vehicles per day and that an average of 5,000 pedestrians and 2,000 cyclists can be found in Riverfront Park during peak months.

The idea coming out of the advisory commission is for Kingsport to take a larger view of the Holston River, all the way from Fort Patrick Henry Dam to the confluence at Rotherwood. The commission is recommending Riverfront Park have destination play areas, riverbank improvements and river views.

Jervis said Kingsport should look to develop the landing part of town (near the roundabout) with active play areas, river access and spaces for summer festivals and events. Further upstream, improvements should be made to Tilthammer Shoals for a new whitewater park area, while terracing could be done to Weir Dam near Eastman to make that section of the river more navigable for kayaks and canoes.

Other recommendations coming from the advisory commission is for Kingsport to complete Riverbend Park with connecting trails and a fishing pier, add boat ramps and access points at Domtar Park and explore the possibility of pedestrian lighting along sections of the riverfront.

This isn’t the first time Kingsport has taken an interest in redeveloping the river. Ten years ago, consultants helped the city draft a 20-year phased master plan for the riverfront area, with Kingsport declaring it a redevelopment district while spending nearly $3 million on infrastructure improvements.

However, the national economy tanked soon after and little, if any, development took place.

Recently though, there has been some movement along the river. A business group known as the Kingsport Riverfront Alliance is unofficially branding its efforts as the Kingsport on the Holston or the KOHO River District. It includes Riverfront Seafood, GRIP Outdoor and the Hibbert-Davis River Brews.

Local officials are hoping to keep this type of economic energy going all along the river. Jervis admits the plan to revitalize the riverfront area is large and involved and will probably take years to fully develop.

“It’s going to be a challenge. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But we’ve got a group of people on the panel that’s up to the challenge,” Jervis said. “We’re going to put together what’s feasible, what the public wants to see and put an effective plan in front of our city leaders and see what we can accomplish.”